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The Romance of Gay Sex Clubs

The Romance of Gay Sex Clubs

by Nadine Botha                              Posted: 2013/12/04

Hardcore gay sex clubs, understandably, have a reputation for sleaze, but JHBLive probes deeper, and finds that they aren't only about sex. https://bit.ly/2NOlQFl

Brenton Maart is a self-proclaimed romantic — "however uncool thatis to say". In his recent exhibition, the recognised South African photographer turned his dreamy eyes onto the underbelly of gay sex clubs — The Factory in Doornfontein in particular. However, what started as an investigation of sex became an investigation of loneliness and the emotional bonds that are formed in this non-verbal environment.

The project started when Maart, by fluke, had a digital camera at the old Shaft.  He followed two rent boys around for the night, recording their adventures. It was eye-opening. "I mean, fuck, you could get blown for R50 — cheap and cheerful," says Maart.

He then presented a proposal to the National Arts Council for an art project exploring bareback sex in clubs. He didn't think they'd fund it, but they did. He's still laughing at the irony of him paying for the two rent boys he photographed at The Factory with NAC money.

Thinking he'd have to pay all the time for subject matter, he wasn't envisioning many shoots on that budget. However, by the third shoot guys at The Factory had become interested and agreed to be photographed. Some had restrictions — only face, only body, never together — but many didn't.

"The Factory is this dark place with strategic lighting. It has a sort of dim, red light. People are used to this dark space and I went in there with a pop flash. So you light up the places or people that you're shooting, which creates a stage effect, like the subjects are in a performance. Eventually the people who you're shooting become performers and everybody else gathers behind you like an audience because they don't want to get shot."

Maart discovered there wasn't a high instance of bareback sex — only twice in more than twenty shoots. Indeed, he felt that the place was more about feelings than kink. The primary emotion he found was loneliness. "It's not overt loneliness because you're naked in a place so there's an element of self-consciousness- you have to look at how you're being seen." But being naked also meant that a lot of social veils were dropped, allowing loneliness and lust to rise to the surface.

But humans are survivors, and he recalls that certain defence mechanisms take the place of clothes, mostly in people's airs and graces: A nonchalant air of disdain — one doesn't get too close or eager-beaver enthusiastic; an air of being in control; and psychological airs of either seeking not to be noticed or drawing attention. People communicate on an auric, spiritual and emotional level with little verbal communication, since words would only obstruct the mating dance.

"People go to The Factory because it's a love thing. Sex is a manifestation of love. You're looking for love. I don't buy this whole thing of being in control of your emotions and deciding to have sex and choosing to only have sex. I don't buy that at all. Sex is a spin-off from love, even if that seems like a bit of a romantic old-fashioned view", said Maart.

It's not sleazy though, he says. Besides the average amount of sleazy people that you'd find in public anywhere. "It's a highly selective thing. You don't go in there and shag the first thing that comes along". But all types of people go there, and many just to hang out in the nude bar, not for sex. "It's a feeling thing. In the same way that outside of sex clubs you don't just pick someone to shag and then drop them. You go on feeling. But because it's all over in one night, it's a concentration of feelings. And there's a whole dance that goes on."

"The nakedness is a secondary thing. Too much emphasis is placed on the shock and sleaze value of it being a naked sex bar," says Maart. The key thing, according to him, is that one is shedding pretences on a basic level, in the hope of finding love.

Hardcore gay sex clubs, understandably, have a reputation for sleaze, but JHBLive probes deeper, and finds that they aren't only about sex. https://bit.ly/2NOlQFl

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